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The Kolodyne Curse
During the month of December each year the areas to be used for jhums were selected. In the month of January/February, the villagers cut down the jungle, bamboos, and trees, and then left the jhum to dry under the blazing hot tropical sun. When it was thoroughly dry, they set it on fire in March. The fire killed all insects and destroyed their eggs, seeds of weeds and jungle plants. Ashes formed the valuable manure. The unburnt logs were used for fencing.
On the day a Mara selected his jhum, he cut a small patch to tell the spirit of the place, who through dreams informed him whether the patch was favorable for cultivation. The dream of clear water, fish, paddy cooked rice or a human corpse was considered a good dream.
On getting the favorable dream the villagers left the jhum half cut and returned to the village. There they performed the sacrifice called Rialongchhi. That day no work was done. Next day the villagers went back to their jhums again and finished the cutting.
After the jhum had been cut, each farmer with jhum on the same slope met at a pre-designated house, whose owner provided the pig. They celebrated by drinking beer, singing song and dance by the young men and women. The feast continued for two days.
After the rains they sowed paddy, millet, maize, cucumber, pumpkin and other vegetables and towards the end of April they sowed paddy. They sowed tobacco and indigo also in small patches in the jhum. The ritual sacrifices at the jhum were common. At the end of July the maize crop was ready for harvest. During the end of November and beginning of December the rice crop was harvested. In between the Maras supplemented their food with various vegetables including cultivated yam.
Pakhai with his wife and son was moving along the foot track leading to his jhum. They had moved for about two and half hours and were still far off from their destination. They kept trudging along the mountain track that wound in and out of the bamboo forest and up and down hills.
The villages in that part of the Mizo Hills district were interconnected by foot tracks. Those closer to the main road had kuchcha tracks. There were hardly any visible signs of development. In fact, the villagers rarely saw the face of any civil officials in their midst.
It was a forgotten land left at the mercy of God and weather. While God was merciful, the weather wasn’t. it brought unimaginable miseries to the hapless villagers during the long rainy season. A farmer’s life was extremely tough. He had to battle many a difficulty day to day.
“Oh God! We can now see our jhum hut,” Numi informed the men.
They all heaved a sigh of relief. After a while they reached their jhum. It had been a continuous walk for three hours from the village.
The jhum hut was built in the center of the cultivation. Close to it a perennial spring flowed.
They put down their loads on the ground and stretched their aching limbs. By now their backs had started paining. Hlycho lifted the plastic jerricane and headed towards the spring to fetch fresh water. Numi climbed the hut and cleaned the floor with a broom of twigs. Pakhai got busy in repairing the hut, damaged by last night’s storm.
The hut was built with the support of six strong and thick bamboos dug deep inside the ground. Clear ten feet from the ground the hut was erected, made entirely of bamboos, connected by a stair. It had a door and a window. In one corner it housed the kitchen and the rest was used for living and storing the farm produce. To drive away the wild animals, which were a persistent problem, he had placed a huge gong inside the hut.
The hut was systematically made well above the ground so as to withstand the storms and rains. It was a necessity for the farmers as their fields were far away from their homes and they had to stay there for days together to carry out tilling and sowing. In that jhum hut Pakhai and his family often spent the best parts of the rainy season, at times for months at a stretch.
Hlycho gave cool water to his parents and then sat down to clean the farm implements. His mother in the meantime made black tea and served them.
They got down and proceeded to till the land. Pakhai knew the work would require minimum four to five days and he had come prepared for it. He had decided to till the entire land and then only return home.
Bualpui often felt lonely, as Rimpui and Zoule roamed around the village and were of no help to her. They were seen only at the mealtimes. She was alone and couldn’t help but think about David. Though he had promised to meet her every fortnight, he hadn’t come to the village since last six months.
“Bualpui, are you in?” a woman in her late twenties knocked at the door.
“Oh! What a pleasant surprise? It’s Nanang Zomi. Please come in,” Bualpui couldn’t hide her excitement on seeing Zomi.
Zomi walked in and closed the door behind her. She instantaneously hugged Bualpui tightly.
“How are you Inaw? And don’t you dare call me Nanang; after all, I’m not that old. I would prefer you call me by name,” Zomi complained.
They sat on a wooden sofa and started talking. As they were meeting after a long time there was plenty of catching up to do.
Zomi had become the most talked of person in the village, a favorite pastime for everyone. Her torrid affair with an Army soldier in 1969 had become a shame for every man and woman in the village. They had warned her against futility of such a liaison but she had paid no heed. During those days when she was in love with the soldier she was on cloud nine and never bothered about her future.
He had given her dreams, real big dreams—of a happy married life in a big city with all the luxuries of life, which she could have never dreamed of. She was to get married to him in the church after a year and then he was to take her with him to Shillong.
But the fortune had laid out other plans for her. The plans, she had never envisaged, never dreamed in her remotest nightmares. Her love story had ended in a tragedy. She was left to live a lonely life in continual pain and anguish, and suffer the social ostracism.
No one knew her agony. And no one except Bualpui had bothered to find out.
“Let’s go to the river,” Bualpui pulled Zomi’s arms and lifted her.
They walked downhill to the riverbank. The water level in the river had risen up slightly. Kolodyne was flowing into Burma with calmness and serenity, the virtues usually associated with it.
The water was muddy. They decided against putting their feet into it. Instead, they sat on its wide and long sandy bank. The sand was cool and soft, and they felt the soothing sensation travel into their bodies through their soles. They felt the weariness melt away.
“What’s the news about your captain?” Zomi started the conversation.
“No news, I’m afraid. He hasn’t met me for the last six months,” Bualpui’s spoke with a tinge of sorrow.
“Don’t get unduly perturbed. He might be busy otherwise how long can he avoid such a beautiful and warm companion?” she teased her.
Her face lit up for a while before she became melancholic again. Zomi could sense the sadness in her eyes.
“He’s not an idle farmer. You should realize that he’s bound by the rules and regulations. I’m quite sure he would meet you at the first opportunity that comes his way,” Zomi tried to cheer her friend up.
Those words had some soothing effect on Bualpui who for a moment smiled. Her cheeks dimpled, the one on the left cheek was bigger than the one on the right and more pronounced too. The flush on her face carried the redness of an early morning’s sunrise. Her smile was so beautiful and infectious that Zomi couldn’t control herself. She smiled too.
Then both laughed looking at each other’s funny face.
“Thanks Zomi, you’re an inspiration to me,” Bualpui clutched her hands.
“As long as you don’t meet my fate,” Zomi said philosophically.
“It’s very difficult to live alone. On next Sunday please do pray for me so that David meets me soon,” Bualpui pleaded her.
“Sure, you don’t have to say it. My good wishes are always with you. Bualpui, you’re all I’ve in the village.”
“I know you love me so much. What would you do when I’m gone?”
“I’ll go with you,” she said teasingly, “Got afraid. Look at the frown on your face, it’s telling all. Don’t worry; you would go alone with your lover.”
Bualpui felt relaxed after talking to Zomi. It had been a long time away from their homes, they realized. Therefore, they had to rush back home to make dinner.
Bualpui entered the house and saw Rimpui and Zoule waiting for her. The two sisters started preparing dinner while Zoule went to feed the pigs and fowls. Once he returned they had their dinner together and went to bed.
In that remote part of the district there were no sources of entertainment except the radios owned by a few villagers. As the farmers had to leave early morning for their work, they ate their dinner around 6 p.m. in the evening and got up around 4 a.m. next morning. Lunch was taken well before 9 a.m. This routine suited their work culture. The long gap between the lunch and dinner was supplemented with snacks and tea.
Since most of the men and women had gone to their jhum khetis, the village wore a deserted look. Only those people required for the safety of the houses and livestock were left behind. The life would return to the village once all the farmers returned after some days.
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